Anti-Trump protests intensify on morning of inauguration

WASHINGTON — Protests ramped up Friday morning in the nation's capital ahead of the inauguration festivities for Donald Trump, with tensions flaring after a night of turbulent demonstrations that included police in riot gear and the use of pepper spray.

As the inauguration got underway, violence erupted in the city's downtown about five blocks from the parade route. Protesters threw rocks at glass storefronts, including a Starbucks and banks, and clutched hammers and bricks, witnesses told NBC News.

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Protesters flung the bricks at police cars, although it was unclear what set off the wave of anger, said Staff Sgt. Mark Stevenson of the D.C. Army National Guard.

Johnny Silvercloud, a freelance journalist who was photographing protesters, said he saw people tossing trashcans and spray-painting a white truck before police in riot gear showed up. He estimated the crowd was over 100 strong, with many dressed in black and wearing hoods and masks.

"I saw one guy, he was like pushing a cop, kind of antagonizing him, and the cop with the riot shield was banging him back," Silvercloud said.

One man had been accidentally knocked over by protesters, a law enforcement officer told NBC News. He was bleeding from the back of his skull as paramedics helped him onto a stretcher.

With hundreds of thousands descending on D.C. this weekend, security checkpoints were choked with foot traffic as ceremony ticket-holders weaved through demonstrators to get to Capitol Hill. The protesters chanted and carried signs — many attacking Trump or making other political and social statements, including "Not my president," "No Islamophobia" and "Black Lives Matter."

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Protesters Joni Lipson and Joan Duckenfield, both of Philadelphia, said they were buoyed by the huge turnout of protesters.

"It looks like there are more of us than Trump supporters here," Duckenfield said.

Trump supporters at one checkpoint at 10th and E streets tried to thread their way past a group of self-described "anarchists." But the demonstrators locked arms and inadvertently tripped a pro-Trump couple trying to pass.

Police immediately pounced and untangled everybody, while the protesters roared "Don't touch me" and "Stop! Stop!" Nobody was arrested.

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The scene was just one tense moment that played out after police deployed pepper spray as hundreds rallied Friday night outside the National Press Club, where a pro-Trump event billed as the "DeploraBall" was being held. Some demonstrators set off smoke devices in the middle of the crowd, and police in riot gear mobilized to block entrance to the event.

"Impeach the predatory president," read one of two messages projected onto the building's façade. Crowds chanted "Nazi scum" at those who entered. Some of the protesters were with the group Refuse Fascism.

Police said they arrested a 34-year-old D.C. man near the event and charged him with conspiracy to commit an assault and were looking for two others, NBC Washington reported.

At one point, demonstrators burned a Trump hat. An inflated elephant — a commonly used mascot for the Republican Party — was adorned by a banner with the word "racism" on it.

The protests have included groups rallying for various causes.

A group against the Dakota Access Pipeline, for example, clashed with police Friday morning at the 14th and F streets entrance into the parade route. Police have been dragging protesters away from the checkpoint, amid cries of "No warning!"

The demonstrations in D.C. have been one of several held throughout the country in opposition to Trump, including a "unity" demonstration outside Trump International Hotel in New York, which was attended by actors Robert De Niro, Sally Field and Mark Ruffalo.

They could be a small taste of what's to come. Dozens of groups have been planning for weeks to descend on D.C. during inauguration week and make their opposition to the incoming president known.

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Some, like the ANSWER Coalition — which stands for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism — are planning to be a vocal and visible presence near the inauguration, but not to engage in any potentially illegal activities.

Others, like the pro-marijuana legalization group DCMJ are advocating on behalf of a specific policy priority. Marijuana use is legal in Washington, and DCMJ is handing out thousands of marijuana cigarettes, or joints, for free to show support for legalization.

More than 10,000 people had gathered Friday morning in DuPont Circle, in a line stretching five blocks long, to pick up their weed, said DCMJ co-founder Nikolas Schiller. There was no police presence.

DCMJ had pre-rolled 4,200 joints — and expected to pass out 8,400 — with supporters planning to march toward the National Mall and light up at exactly 4 minutes and 20 seconds into Trump's inaugural address — a nod to the number "420" which is code for marijuana/getting high.

"I got my joint and it's wonderful," Justice Shakur, who drove from Baltimore, told NBC News, adding that "you can be a Trump supporter and still like marijuana."

But still others hope to create some chaos. That's the case with Disrupt J20, a group organizing a series of protests with the direct aim of disrupting the inauguration.

"We must take to the streets and protest, blockade, disrupt, intervene, sit in, walk out, rise up, and make more noise and good trouble than the establishment can bear," reads the group's manifesto.

And the biggest protest, set for Saturday, could be history-making. That's when the Women's March on Washington is expected to draw 200,000 protesters to the streets of D.C., a number that Inaugural Historian Jim Bendat said could break records.

"It's quite noteworthy. If they get those kinds of numbers, it will far exceed any previous inaugural protest," he said.


Overall, the National Park Service has approved 22 permits for First Amendment events ranging in size from 50 to 200,000 people for inauguration week. Though many protest organizers state outright they have no plans to break laws or create altercations, city and federal law enforcement agencies have been working together in preparation for every security concern.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has said more than 3,000 police officers from other regions and 5,000 National Guardsmen will be on-hand to help secure the parade route.

"Security is my greatest concern," Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, has said. "No question that on inaugural day, this would be the most appealing target in the world."

At Thursday's D.C. protest, an organizer said police acted aggressively and tried to "cattle corral" demonstrators, and hoped the use of pepper spray wouldn't dissuade others from turning out this weekend. D.C. Anti-Fascist Coalition organizer also said another, rowdier group joined Thursday's protest.

"This did not go how we expected it to," she said.

Related: D.C. Braces for Tens of Thousands of Protesters During Trump's Inauguration Week

Stefan Johnson, a Trump supporter who came by to watch Thursday's demonstration, said it was mostly civil. "There was a little bit of passion on their side which is somewhat understandable, I guess," he said.

Johnson and others with him had some conversations with protesters. "The same old thing: he's a racist, he's sexist, he hates immigrants, that's about it," Johnson said.

A Twitter account for the DeploraBall event mocked protesters, posting a video of crowds chanting "F--- Trump!" with their own message: "Shouting won't change tomorrow's outcome ... can't wait to say president @realDonaldTrump."